If you’re looking for a Network Attached Storage (NAS) solution, you’ve probably researched NAS devices that range in price from $200 to $2,000 and higher. A free option you should consider is FreeNAS, an embedded, open source NAS solution that is easy to deploy. FreeNAS is based on BSD (nanoBSD), so it’s not only reliable, it’s also secure.

FreeNAS supports these protocols:

  • CIFS (samba)
  • FTP
  • NFS
  • TFTP
  • AFP
  • Unison
  • iSCSI (initiator and target)
  • UpnP

One nice feature of FreeNAS is that it can be installed on a USB flash drive and run as a Live distribution (For a full list of compatible hardware, check out the FreeBSD Hardware Compatibility List.) The BIOS on your machine will have to support Boot from USB in order for this to work; fortunately, many modern BIOS support this feature. This makes for a quick, easy, and on-the-fly NAS device.

Installing FreeNAS

Most administrators will want to install FreeNAS so the device is more reliable than that of a live distribution running from a flash drive. The FreeNAS installation process is simple — just follow these steps:

1. Download the ISO image from the FreeNAS download page (be sure to download the right file for your architecture).

2. Burn the ISO image onto a CD.

3. Boot the NAS machine using the FreeNAS CD.

4. Select Install from the list.

5. In order for the installation to complete, remove the disk and reboot.

Configuring networking in FreeNAS

FreeNAS is not ready for you to use quite yet. The next step is to configure networking, so you can use the web-based administration tool.

When FreeNAS has completed the boot process, you’ll see the menu in Figure A. From this menu, select option 1 to configure networking.
Figure A

Dropping into a Shell gives access to all of the FreeNAS executables.

Since this device will serve as a NAS where users will push and pull files, the interface will need to have a static IP address. To do this, enter 1 to gain access to the network interface configuration tool. This tool is a text-only tool and will require the following:

  • Select an interface to configure.
  • Configure interface for DHCP y/n.
  • Configure IPv4 y/n.
  • Interface name.
  • IPv4 address.
  • IPv4 Netmask.
  • Configure IPv6.

Once the configuration is complete, the FreeNAS device can be accessed from the web interface.

Using the web interface

The web interface is the best feature of FreeNAS. The web interface makes it incredibly easy to set up and administer your NAS device. Figure B shows that the web interface is user-friendly.
Figure B

Adding volumes, importing, and auto-importing of volumes is as simple as a click of a button.

In order to log into the web-based GUI, use these credentials:

  • Username: admin
  • Password: freenas

You should change the password immediately by clicking My Account in the left navigation and then clicking Change Password. After that is complete, the system is ready for the creation of users and volumes. Note: When a new volume is added to FreeNAS, it will clear the data from the device. So if the desired effect is to add a pre-existing volume containing data, make sure the action is to Import or Auto Import the volume.
Each time you add a new user, you can define where that user’s home directory is located (Figure C).

Figure C

Unless a user has a need for a shell login, you should disable that feature.

The user’s home directory must begin with /mnt. When the user’s account is created, that home directory can be /mnt/USERNAME (USERNAME is the user’s actual name). You define that in the user creation screen, and the FreeNAS system will create the non-existent folder.

Managing services in FreeNAS

One of the most important configurations to manage is the services. Individual services are configured and turned on or off in the screen shown in Figure D.
Figure D

Services are turned off or on from the configuration window of the individual service. If a service is needed, click the configuration icon associated with the service (the wrench is the icon in question), change the options necessary, and click OK. When the configuration options have been saved, the service will start. The configuration of each service will depend on the needs of the company/network using FreeNAS.

Get the most out of FreeNAS

There are a ton of other features that can be configured, thanks to the FreeNAS web-gui. Anyone deploying this NAS tool should make sure to take the time to go through every aspect of the GUI to make sure to be taking full advantage of this incredibly powerful and free NAS solution.

More about FreeNAS on TechRepublic